In my decade-long experience as a fitness coach, I've helped multiple clients with shoulder stiffness and pain by doing nothing but simple shoulder mobility exercises.
What's amazing about these exercises is that they can be done at home without specialist help.
To help my readers with the same problem, I've decided to share these exercises that have worked for my clients. I also consulted a physical therapist who helped add further insights on the causes of shoulder immobility.
Let's dive in.
- Examples of exercises that can help improve your shoulder mobility include the reverse fly exercise, banded shoulder rotation, shoulder rolls, and child's pose.
- Poor shoulder flexibility and mobility can result from age, trauma, poor posture, lack of exercise, and heavy lifting.
- Shoulder pain affects 18-26% of adults at a certain point, and shoulder mobility exercises can help significantly lower the feeling of pain.
- Personally, I find the integration of shoulder mobility exercises with full-body workouts to be an effective approach for holistic fitness.
Best Shoulder Mobility Exercises
Consider adding the following shoulder exercises to improve your strength, stability, and flexibility in the shoulder joint and the surrounding muscle.
I remember introducing the shoulder roll exercise to my client who's a writer who spent hours hunched over his laptop. After a few weeks, he was amazed at how much tension it relieved from his upper body, making his shoulders feel more relaxed and flexible.
The shoulder roll exercise can help remove tension in your upper body and relax your shoulders.
It also makes a great warm-up exercise.
Research shows that warm-ups help loosen up your joints and can prevent the likelihood of an injury .
Here's how to do it:
- Stand straight with a neutral spine.
- With your arms relaxed, shrug your shoulders towards your ears.
- While maintaining a stationary head, move your shoulder in a circular motion for about half a minute.
- Switch and move in the other direction for another 30 seconds.
- Repeat the move about four times.
When I first tried the reverse fly, I was targeting my upper back and thoracic muscles, crucial for shoulder support. The difference it made was remarkable. Not only did my shoulders feel more mobile, but my upper back strength also improved significantly.
You will need a pair of dumbbells for this workout. Choose some lightweight DB that you can lift with ease.
Here's how to do it:
- Start by holding a pair of dumbbells in each hand while standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.
- Brace your core and hinge at your waist so that you are slightly bent forward. Your back should be straight and your arms fully extended.
- While still bent, raise your arms laterally at a 90-degree angle. Ensure you're squeezing your shoulder blades while doing this. Only stop when your arms reach shoulder height.
- Once you reach up, pause briefly before slowly returning to your starting position.
- Do about 3 sets of 12 reps.
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Also known as an overhead shoulder press, this workout can help boost your strength and increase your shoulder's range of motion.
The good thing about it is that it can be done standing or seated on a chair or medicine ball.
Remember, this is not about bulking up but increasing your shoulder range of motion. So use a dumbbell you can easily lift for 12 or more repetitions.
How to do it:
- Start by assuming a seated or standing position, whichever your choose.
- Hold a pair of dumbbells in each hand with an overhand grip at shoulder height with your elbows bent at 90 degrees. This is your starting position.
- Now, raise the dumbbells by extending your elbows until fully extended and weights overhead.
- Pause briefly before slowly lowering your weights back to the starting position.
- Repeat the movement for about 10-15 reps.
According to a study in the BMC Journal, this is not just a shoulder mobility routine; it also stretches your neck, back, hips, ankles, and thighs .
You may need a mat for this, but it can still be done without it.
Here's how to do it:
- Get to a kneeling position, then sit on your feet (widen your knees for a comfortable position) and lean forward so your torso is on top of your thighs.
- Stretch your arms overhead and press your hands firmly on the floor while broadening your shoulder blades, arching your upper back, and pushing it towards the ceiling. Hold this position for 20 seconds.
- Take your hands towards your left side while keeping your arms extended, and press your hands on the floor. As you do this, push your right rib cage out. Hold for another 20 seconds.
- Repeat the same movement to the opposite side and hold for another 20 seconds.
Banded Shoulder Rotations
I've often used a simple home gym resistance band for shoulder rotations, and the results are always impressive. In one instance, using just a band and sometimes a stick, I helped a client regain significant mobility in her shoulders, which she had lost due to a sedentary lifestyle.
If the rotations are extremely easy for you, shorten the grip width of your band.
How to do it:
- Kneel on your favorite exercise mat while keeping your torso straight.
- Hold the ends of a resistance band with both hands wider than shoulder-width apart, with arms fully extended.
- While holding the band at opposite ends with both hands, lift it, and move it over your head, behind your back, to your bum for a full rotation.
- Follow the same path back to your starting position while keeping your arms straight.
Other exercises that can improve your shoulder's mobility include:
- Prone Swimmers
- Serratus Push up Into Downward Dog
- Scapula Circles
- Lift Offs
Shoulder tightness could come about because of the following:
- Age:. Getting older has physical limitations. And one such area negatively affected is soft tissues (shoulder muscles, tendons, and ligaments) mobility and flexibility, which could result in tight shoulders.
- Shoulder trauma: A dislocation or tear in your rotator cuff muscles can cause your shoulder to be immobile or unable to move through its full range of motion. While the trauma can cause poor mobility, in the long run, if the shoulder injury does not heal properly, it can lead to limited shoulder movements.
- Lack of exercise: A sedentary lifestyle where you sit too long without exercising your shoulders can also impact your mobility.
- Excessive lifting and stretching: Lifting bulky things for an extended period might also cause mobility issues. Extreme stretching might also overwork your shoulder joints, leading to the same result.
- Poor posture: Poor posture for prolonged periods can increase tension and lead to shoulder tightness.
Integration of Shoulder Mobility with Full-Body Workouts
When it comes to enhancing shoulder mobility, most fitness enthusiasts focus on isolated exercises targeting the shoulder joints. However, an integrated approach, combining shoulder mobility drills with full-body workouts, can yield more holistic benefits.
Here's how to integrate shoulder mobility into a full-body workout:
- Dynamic shoulder mobility drills: Exercises like 'Bear Crawls' or 'Inchworms' not only work on the shoulders but also engage the core, arms, and legs. These exercises improve shoulder joint mobility while simultaneously enhancing overall body strength and agility.
- Functional movements for real-life applications: Functional movements, such as squat-to-press or lunges with lateral raises, mimic everyday actions. This approach not only improves shoulder mobility but also ensures that the body is well-coordinated and prepared for daily tasks.
- Progressive overload for shoulder mobility: Gradually increasing the intensity, duration, or complexity of the exercises can help in steadily enhancing shoulder flexibility and strength.
Benefits of Shoulder Mobility Exercises
According to an article on ACE Fitness, all joints need to move, but some joints, especially the ankle, hips, thoracic spine, and those connecting arms and shoulders need it more than others .
Here's what you stand to achieve after performing shoulder mobility exercises.
Tasks such as brushing your hair, reaching for overhead objects, and pulling your dress zipper need a bunch of different shoulder movements.
By improving your shoulder mobility, these tasks become less challenging.
Mobility exercises help improve joint health and resilience and also help get rid of inflammation.
"Movement almost flushes your joint, so what happens is you're getting rid of inflammation, and then the new fluid that's coming to the joint [known as synovial fluid] is what's gonna bring the nutrients to nourish it."
- Bethany Cook, Physical Therapist
Learn More: 30-Minute Shoulder Workouts
What Muscles Help Shoulder Mobility?
Muscles that help shoulder mobility include the latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major, teres major, and minor. They help in movement functions such as extension, adduction, flexion, abduction, internal and external rotation, and circumduction.
How Long Does It Take To Improve Shoulder Mobility?
How long it takes to improve your shoulder's mobility depends on factors such as the state of your shoulder and how often you exercise. However, with the right training, you might see positive results in 2-3 weeks but generally after about six weeks.
How Do I Know If I Have Poor Shoulder Mobility?
You know if you have poor shoulder mobility, if you have a limited range of motion, experience shoulder pain or discomfort when lifting your arm, 're unable to lift your arm at all, or have a general weakness in the shoulder or have bruising.
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